Paris Tea Salons

Paris Tea Salons
From the classic old teashop to the unknown gem, Parisians are flocking to salons de thé as tea drinking becomes à la mode, popular with everyone from the bohemian student to the glamorous grandmother. Whether you like your brew poured from a silver or cast-iron pot, there’s a salon to suit every mood, occasion and taste, each with an individual ambience and clientele. More intimate and welcoming than the smoky café du coin, the address of a good tearoom can be a lifesaver, especially in winter – reviving the jaded traveller from chilly weather as well as the late-afternoon lull.     But what makes teatime unique in France is the distinctive French pâtisserie that accompanies your tea, be it green, black or herbal. From golden, flaky pastries to rich gâteaux and glistening tarts, the Parisian tea salon is a sweet-tooth’s dream. So, with dinner still a long way off (most Parisians tuck in their serviettes no earlier than 8.30pm), sink into a soft chair around 4pm, and enjoy the leisurely ritual of taking tea – French style.     Across the street from the Tuileries Gardens, the rambling tearoom Angelina’s is an institution among Paris’ grand tea parlours. Opened in 1903, it remains ensconced in a faded setting of Versailles-style mirrors and vast landscape murals. Curt waitresses in frilly aprons serve tea and tarts from silver trays. A grande dame shares cake with her petit chien. Jugs of Chocolats à l’Africain arrive to muffled gasps of surprise. Made with tablets of melted chocolate, the richest hot chocolate in the city is not for the faint-hearted.     Once frequented by Audrey Hepburn, Gertrude Stein, Coco Chanel and Marcel Proust (who loved to dunk his madeleines in lime-flavoured tea), the marble-topped tables and black leather chairs are now decorated with winter furs, the fashion set between shows (held January and February at the nearby Louvre) and, like all Parisian institutions, plenty of tourists.     Many locals prefer to sneak around the corner to Ladurée. Filled with a tangle of Hermès scarves, society doyennes and businessmen with immaculate mistresses, this 19th-century green and gold chocolate box remains the address to have tea. Plump cherubs bake bread on the ceiling against a blazing sun. Old friends gossip tête-à-tête and eat fruit tartlets with a knife and fork. Divine millefeuilles and golden financiers are whisked out the door in perfect pale-green boxes. Oozing with style, it’s the place to go to taste the best gooey macaroons in town, sip Yunnan Imperial from Limoges china and rub shoulders with a regular clientele of staunch devotees, many of whom are having a break from the exhausting task of shopping in the nearby luxury boutiques of rue Royale and rue du Faubourg St-Honoré. At prime time (4pm-5.30pm) tables are rare. To be sure of a seat downstairs, come for morning tea.     Ladurée began as a bakery in 1862. Shortly afterwards, Ernest Ladurée’s wife, Jeanne Souchard, had the idea of mixing the Parisian café and pastry shop, and created one of the first true tea salons in town. More than a century later, Ladurée employs 80 pastry chefs who use 36 tonnes of butter, 20 tonnes of almonds and 28 tonnes of chocolate a year to whip up some of the best pâtisseries in the capital, including 3,000 mini-macarons a day. The newest flavour is rose petal, adding to the firm favourites of lemon, pistachio, chocolate and vanilla.     Riding high, Ladurée opened an opulent new salon on avenue des Champs-Élysées in 1997. The five Empire style dining rooms on the first floor are popular with locals for afternoon tea and, unlike the original on rue Royale, you always get a seat. It’s also a favourite breakfast haunt of young professionals who nip in for one of the best croissants in town and a frothy café crème before work.      For tea served with a slice of art, opt for Darjeeling and cheesecake under the ceiling painted by Tiepolo in the Jacquemart André Museum. This 19th-century mansion has the intimacy of a private home, and is the perfect place to while away a wintry afternoon. Crammed with Fragonards, Rembrandts, 18th-century furniture and objects d’art, it’s a favourite address for discerning art lovers. The former owners, Edouard André and Nelie Jacquemart, created the finest private collection of art in Paris and left it all to L’Institut de France. Once their formal dining room, the tearoom is one of the most beautiful in Paris – slung with 18th century tapestries and red velvet drapes. For a stylish light lunch, it’s unbeatable. If you taste runs more to Degas ballerinas and plump-faced Renoirs, visit the Musée d’Orsay and treat yourself to afternoon tea in the elegant belle époque restaurant on the second floor, overlooking the Seine.      Serious tea-drinkers frequent Mariage Frères, where Parisian chic meets Raffles Far East ambience. The Mariage family, France’s oldest importer of tea, has supplied exclusive French retailers from 1660 and poured tea to Parisians since 1854. The original salon is tucked away in an ancient Marais street, but it’s the salon in the heart of the St Germain-des-Près that has that extra je ne sais quoi.     Waiters in white linen waft past palms with steaming pots of tea. Study the thick tea menu and you’ll find perfumed teas sprinkled with flowers, green tea with Moroccan mint, even Thé de Pâques, evoking the taste of crème brulée. Try a slice of tarte au thé, a glass of ice tea, or come for the delicious brunch (12- 6.30pm). At the boutique, 500 flavours line the walls. Tea connoisseurs…
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